Francis Poulenc

From New World Encyclopedia

Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (January 7, 1899 – January 30, 1963) was a French composer and a member of the French group Les Six. He composed music in all major genres, including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music and orchestral music. Critic Claude Rostand, in a July 1950 Paris-Presse article, described Poulenc as "half bad boy, half monk" ("le moine et le voyou"), a tag that was to be attached to his name for the rest of his career.[1]


Francis Poulenc was born in Paris. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play, and music formed a part of family life. An outstanding pianist,[2] the keyboard dominated much of his early compositions. He also, throughout his career, borrowed from his own compositions as well as those of Mozart and Saint-Saëns. Later in his life, the loss of some close friends, coupled with a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, led him to rediscovery of the Catholic faith and resulted in compositions of a more sombre, austere tone.

Personal Life

Poulenc "adored women, but loved men".[3] His first serious relationship was with painter Richard Chanlaire to whom he dedicated his Concert champêtre: "You have changed my life, you are the sunshine of my thirty years, a reason for living and working."[1] He also once said, "You know that I am as sincere in my faith, without any messianic screamings, as I am in my Parisian sexuality."[4]

Poulenc also had a number of relationships with women. He fathered a daughter, Marie-Ange, although he never formally admitted that he was indeed her father. He was also a very close friend of the singer Pierre Bernac for whom he wrote many songs; some sources have hinted that this long friendship had sexual undertones; however, the now-published correspondence between the two men strongly suggests that this was not the case.

Poulenc was profoundly affected by the death of friends. First came the death of the young woman he had hoped to marry, Raymonde Linossier. While Poulenc admitted to having no sexual interest in Linossier, they had been lifelong friends.[1] Then, in 1923 he was "unable to do anything" for two days after the death from typhoid fever of his twenty year old friend, novelist Raymond Radiguet. However, two weeks later he had moved on, joking to Diaghilev at the rehearsals he was unable to leave, about helping a dancer "warm up".[1] In 1936 Poulenc was profoundly affected by the death of a rival composer, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, who was beheaded in an automobile accident. This led him to his first visit to the shrine of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour. Here, before the statue of the Madonna with a young child on her lap, Poulenc experienced a life-changing transformation. Thereafter his work took on more religious themes, beginning with the Litanies à la vierge noire (1936). In 1949, Poulenc experienced the death of another friend, the artist Christian Bérard, for whom he composed his 'Stabat Mater' (1950). Other sacred works from this period include the Mass in G (1937), Gloria (1950), and Sept répons des ténèbres (1961–2).

Organizations and Affiliations

Poulenc was a member of Les Six, a group of young French composers, Milhaud, Auric, Durey, Honegger and Tailleferre, who also had links with Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau. He embraced the Dada movement's techniques, creating melodies that would have been appropriate for Parisian music halls.

Among Poulenc's last series of major works is a series of works for wind instruments and piano. He was particularly fond of woodwinds, and planned a set of sonatas for all of them, yet only lived to complete four: sonatas for flute, oboe, clarinet, and the Elegie for horn.

Poulenc died of heart failure in Paris in 1963.


Chamber Music

His works of chamber music include:

  • Sonata for 2 Clarinets, op. 7 (1918/1945)
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 12 (1918)
  • Piano Suite (1920)
  • Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon, op. 32 (1922/1945)
  • Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone, op. 33 (1922/1945)
  • Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano, op. 43 (1926)
  • Villanelle for Pipe (pipeau) and Piano, op. 74 (1934)
  • Suite française for 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Percussion and Harpsichord, op. 80 (1935)
  • Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet, op. 100 (1932-9)
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 119 (1942-3/1949)
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano. op. 143 (1940-48)
  • Trois mouvements perpétuels for 9 Instruments, op. 14 (1946)
  • Flute Sonata, op. 164 (1956-7)
  • Elégie for Horn and Piano, op. 168 (1957)
  • Sarabande for Guitar, op. 179 (1960)
  • Clarinet Sonata, op. 184 (1962)
  • Oboe Sonata, op. 185 (1962)

Other Dramatic and Instrumental Works

Other works include:

  • Music for the ballet Les Biches (1922/23)
  • Concert champêtre for harpsichord, (1927-1928)
  • Concerto Choréographique pour piano et dix-huit instruments, "Aubade"(1930)
  • Concerto for two pianos and orchestra in d minor (1932)
  • Concerto for organ, strings and timpani in g minor (1938)
  • The Story of Babar the Elephant for Piano and Narrator (1940, orchestrated by Jean Françaix 1945)
  • Cantata Figure humaine for double-choir a cappella (1943), Premiere in January 1945 in London
  • Opera Les mamelles de Tirésias (1947)
  • Concerto for piano and orchestra (1949)
  • Opera Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957)
  • Opera La voix humaine (1959)
  • Gloria 1959, Premiere in Boston (1961)

Choral Works

Choral Music

  • Chanson à boire (TTBB) (1922)
  • Sept chansons, (SATB) (1936)
  • Litanies à la vierge noire (SSA, org) (1936), orchestrated (1947)
  • Petites voix (SSA) (1936)
  • Mass in G, (SATB) (1937)
  • Sécheresses (chorus, orchestra) (1937)
  • Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (SATB): Vinea mea electa, (1938); Tenebrae factae sunt, (1938); Tristis est anima mea, (1938); Timor et tremor, (1939)
  • Exultate Deo (SATB) (1941)
  • Salve regina (SATB) (1941)
  • Figure humaine (12 voices) (1943)
  • Un soir de neige (6 voices) (1944)
  • Chansons françaises: Margoton va t'a l'iau, (SATB)(1945); La belle se siet au pied de la tour (SATBarB) (1945); Pilons l'orgue (SATBarB) (1945); Clic, clac, dansez sabots (TBB) (1945); C'est la petit' fill' du prince (SATBarB) (1946); La belle si nous étions (TBB) (1946); Ah! Mon beau laboureur (SATB) (1945); Les tisserands (SATBarB) (1946)
  • Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise (Men's chorus) (1948)
  • Stabat Mater (Soprano solo, SATB divisi, orchestra )(1950)
  • Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël, (Mixed chorus): O magnum mysterium (1952); Quem vidistis pastores (1951); Videntes stellam (1951); Hodie Christus natus est (1952)
  • Ave verum corpus (SMezA) (1952)
  • Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue (Men's Chorus): O Jésu perpetua lux (1957); O proles hispaniae (1958); Laus regi plena gaudio (1959); Si quaeris (1959)
  • Gloria (Soprano solo, SATB divisi, orchestra) (1959)
  • Sept répons des ténèbres, (Child Soprano, Men's Chorus, Children's Chorus, orchestra (1961-2)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ivry, Benjamin. 1996. Francis Poulenc, 20th-Century Composers series. Phaidon Press Limited. ISBN 0-7148-3503-X
  2. Myriam Chimènes. 'Poulenc, Francis', Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy. Grove Music Retrieved January 3, 2008.
  3. In the words of his muse Denise Duval.
  4. Aldrich, Robert and Wotherspoon, Gary, eds. 2001. Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22974-X

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Aldrich, Robert and Gary Wotherspoon (eds.). Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day. New York: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 041522974X
  • Ivry, Benjamin. Francis Poulenc. 20th-Century Composers series. Phaidon Press Limited, 1996. ISBN 071483503X
  • Mellers, Wilfrid Howard. Francis Poulenc. Oxford; NY: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0198163371


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